Saturday, 9 January 2016

Spicy Popcorn, Home made!

Spicy Popcorn, Homemade!

You can buy a bag of pre-made popcorn, stuff it into your microwave, and let it pop, but let’s face it. The smell of it isn’t that pleasant, the taste not so great either, and queer chemicals abound.  It’s actually silly easy to make it from scratch with healthy ingredients.  A popcorn popper and a microwave are the only gizmos you need, though I also use a garlic slicer and a cheese grater to speed up the process.

This recipe takes about seven minutes, and makes a good amount of popcorn for four people, or an extravagant amount for two, or an overwhelming amount for one.  If you want to go full vegan, skip the ghee or butter and use just olive oil, but only cook half and add the other half raw, for optimum health benefits.
My garlic slicer makes this a snap!

2 to 3 tablespoons ghee or good quality butter
1 to 3 fresh garlic cloves, sliced almost paper thin
½  or (to taste)teaspoon dried chilies
1 teaspoon crushed oregano
¼ teaspoon salt
1 inch cube Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup best quality olive oil
¼ cup popcorn kernals, or fill machine to its limit

My cheese grater makes this even easier.

In a microwavable container, mix ghee, garlic and chilies.  If you don’t have ghee, use a good quality butter.  Microwave for about one minute.  Add the salt.  It will bubble up a little.  If the garlic is still white, microwave for another 15 seconds, so the garlic is a pale gold.  Any darker would get bitter, but barely gold will make for delicious garlic chips. 
Garlic chips should be barely golden.

While ghee is still very hot, put popcorn into popcorn maker and start machine.  As it’s beginning to pop, add olive oil to the ghee. 

Dribble ghee mixture over popcorn as it arrives in a bowl.  Start sprinkling in grated Parmesan.  
Continue to dribble and sprinkle, and then stuff some popcorn directly into the oil container and stir to get every last molecule of deliciousness back into the popcorn.  Don’t waste a drop of that delicious topping.

Eat right away.  We like this in front of a movie, preferably with a glass or two of nice, red wine.  Lazy weekends are so heavenly.  We sometimes don't even bother with dinner when we're having this.

I use a maniac amount of popcorn to keep the oil levels down, but you shouldn't!

Monday, 4 January 2016

Herbal Lemon Tea from Scratch

Dehydrate your own organic lemons for a beautiful herbal lemon tea.

I love the fragrance of lemons, especially in the winter, when I can't get enough of them.  But a package of Lemon Zinger Teabags has only 20 tea bags, and I knew I could make it better myself.  A small bag of organic lemons later, I have enough to last me for a much longer stretch, and it cost me in the realm of about five dollars, much cheaper than the storebought version.  And so much tastier! It's like drinking a cup of sunshine.

I have the equipment that makes this easy: a mandolin and a food dehydrator.  With this equipment, it takes about twenty minutes to slice and lay out the lemons, and about 24 hours for the dehydration to be complete.  My dehydrator takes only about four lemons at a time, so I had to do this in two batches to get about 60 cups of strong lemon tea.

6 organic lemons

Wash the lemons well.  Because lemons have a bumpy skin, they collect microbes, so give them a very good scrub and rinse.

Patience and time will allow you to slice the lemons with a knife, and you could even dehydrate in the sun, I suppose, but the mandolin allowed me to slice the lemons quickly.  Place the blade to cut slices about 1/8th of an inch thick.

That's about 1/8 inch thick, maybe less.
Working one lemon at a time, be sure to scrape the extra juice into a handy bowl, so nothing is wasted.  The lemon seeds usually slide away from the blade, so plucking them out isn't usually needed.  Discard the seeds.

Place the slices onto each level of the dehydrator.  The lowest levels will be the hottest, so shuffling the trays from time to time is a good idea.  The lemons will burn if left too long, so watch carefully.  I plugged in my dehydrator in the late afternoon, and unplugged it before going to bed.

The next morning I saw that the lemons in the top tray weren't fully dry, so I plugged it back in, and checked the bottom trays and shuffled again.  Already, the bottom trays had darkened lemons, but just enough to caramelize the juices, improving the flavour and colour of the tea.

Just 3 slices will make a lovely cuppa!
For zero bitterness, you can break up the dried slices, keeping the fruit and discarding the peel, but a little bitterness is very healthy, according to Ayurvedic teachings.  I tried the tea both with and without the peels, and prefer the peels.

To make a cup of tea, place 3 small slices into a cup and pour in boiling water.  The tea is steeped once the lemons sink and it smells gorgeous and takes on a pretty colour.  Add a little honey if you like, but the lemons already have their own sugar, so I didn't add sweetener.

Of course you can also add other herbs.  I added a few leaves of home grown mint that I dehydrated in the fall, along with a few dried rose petals and buds.
I got fancy here, adding dried mint and rose petals.

This post begins a new segment to my Indian cooking blog.  Look for a new tab, Big Projects!  

About a year and a half in, I realized that one day I would run out of recipes, and sure enough, I'm still cooking Indian cuisine 300 days out of the year, but I rarely dream up new recipes now.  The new segment will be about long term culinary related projects, such as growing the herbs and vegetables, dehydrating them, fermenting teas, kefirs and vegetables, and so on.

It's very difficult to find a good Holy Basil (Tulsi) tea in these parts, and last year I started the plants from seed, harvested them, dehydrated and made tea that could float you up to heaven.  Alas, I gave away most of the plants in the spring, and my own supply was used up in a few weeks.

A mix of broken lemon, rose petal, bud and mint tea.
I leave for India in the next little while, and will start many more Holy Basil seeds upon returning to Canada.  I intend to grow a lot, realizing how amazing this tea tastes, and how healthy it is for you.  I'll document the process in the new segment, Big Projects,

As far as regular, make it today recipes go, I will continue to create, and I'm sure I'll discover new dishes in India in the next few weeks.  I'll be visiting with at least one of the Bebinka ladies, my Beautiful Granddaughter's paternal grandmother, so who knows what I'll learn?

This jar alone will make about 35 cups of liquid sunshine!  Second batch coming up tonight!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Most Christmassy Christmas Crack Ever!

Most Christmassy Christmas Crack Ever!

My only complaint against that delectable and very easy sweet known as Christmas Crack is that it doesn’t especially taste like Christmas.  Talking about ways to get the Christmas flavours, Beautiful Granddaughter and I hit on the same idea.  We’ve invented Peppermint Christmas Crack.  I do have a recipe for standard Christmas Crack if you'd prefer, but me, I like to flavour things up. 

Because I've also used Graham crackers here, these are slightly more healthy, but you can't go cooking up and serving crack and consider yourself to be a wholesome person, can you?

The molten sugar stage is where you need to exercise caution, so I would advise against children or tipsy types attempting this recipe!

This recipe makes a full cookie sheet worth, and takes about fifteen minutes to prepare, and needs at least an hour to cool in a chilly spot.  First, put your oven up to 350 F.

2 cups raw Organic cane sugar 
Storebought culprits.
1 ¼ cups butter
2 peppermint candy canes (crushed to make about 2 tablespoons)

1 sleeve Graham crackers
1 Dairy Milk Mint Chocolate bar (100 gram)
20 Candycane kisses
1 cup chocolate chips
¼ teaspoon freshly ground peppercorns (optional)

Crush with a pestle, including peppercorns if you like.
First, I stole a couple of peppermint candy canes from the Christmas tree.  I put them in a mortar that already had a bit of ground black pepper in it, and crushed the canes.  You can skip the pepper option if you like.  Set aside.

Combine sugar and butter in a deep pot and put onto medium high.  Stir so sugar doesn’t burn before butter has a chance to melt.  Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with parchment, and place graham crackers evenly spaced over the sheet.

Stir the sugar occasionally, letting the mix melt and then boil for about three minutes.  Sprinkle in half the crushed candy canes and pour evenly over the crackers.  Careful, molten sugar is not your friend unless you pour cautiously and let it cool down before you dream of touching it.

Place in preheated 350 F oven for about ten minutes.  Set your timer to 8 minutes to be on the safe side.

Chop the mint chocolate and candy cane kisses, and have the chocolate chips and crushed peppermint on standby.
I forgot to mention the kisses had to be peeled!

Remove the cookie tray from the oven when everything is bubbling and dark golden.  Put it somewhere stable and safe.  Sprinkle the chopped chocolate , kisses, remaining crushed candy canes, and chocolate chips.  Move fast so you get it done while the sugar is still molten.

Let sit for about two minutes.  Take a spreading knife and smooth and swirl the chocolate and kisses.
Set somewhere to cool.  (To give an idea of how chilly it’s getting around here, the floor of my pantry had these completely chilled in about an hour.  Not bad—molten hot to refrigerator cold in an hour, using no electricity.  Sheesh…) 
Smooth and swirl to get a pretty effect.

Once the chocolate and toffee has solidified, crack it up and serve to the wanton.  
I tossed in some of my Glorified Candied Ginger for serving tonight.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Cardamom Cookies

Cardamom Cookies

These are quiet, well behaved cookies, especially nice with a cup of tea on a cold and cloudy afternoon, when you can’t bear too much excitement, or guilt.  Whole wheat, ground oats, raw sugar, they really aren’t that bad for you.  Comforting cookies, they are.

This recipe makes about two and a half dozen cookies, and take less than an hour from start to nibbling, unless you need to chill the dough if your kitchen is too warm.  (Mine wasn’t.) Set your oven to 350 F.

I used raw honey and raw organic sugar.
½ cup (rounded) raw natural oats
6 green cardamom pods, husks removed
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 grates fresh black pepper corns
1 cup soft butter
¾ cup raw sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk (optional)
Extra flour for rolling  

You want to have a slightly heaping half cup of raw natural oats, the least processed you can get.  Toss the oats and cardamom in the blender and whiz till the oatmeal is like a grainy flour and the cardamom is well combined.  In a medium size bowl, blend oats, cardamom, flour, salt, baking soda, and ground pepper.  Stirring with a fork or spoon will do.  Set aside. 
Stir together dry ingredients.

In an electric mixer bowl, combine butter, raw sugar and honey.  Beat on medium high speed till light and fluffy.  Dial the speed back to low, and slowly begin adding the dry mixture.  Once all the dry mixture is added, pour in the vanilla but keep beating.  My flour may have been overly dry, because I needed to add some milk at this point.  If your dough is crumbly, and not something you could press with a rolling pin, add a tablespoon of milk.  Continue to beat.  If you need the next bit of milk, use it.  Once the dough gathers itself onto the beater, it’s ready. Divide the dough into two balls.  If your kitchen is quite warm, and you fear the dough is too soft, wrap it and refrigerate for about twenty minutes.

Bake till bottoms are a golden brown.
Sprinkle flour on a rolling surface, and onto a rolling pin.   Roll out one ball at a time into a large oval, about an eighth of an inch thick.  You could use the rim of a glass to cut out the dough, but I used a fancy cookie cutter. 

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, about a half inch apart.  Poke with a fork three or four times. Bake for four minutes, turn sheet 90 degrees, then bake another four minutes, till bottoms are golden.  Let sit a couple of minutes, then lift with a spatula onto a rack till cool enough to eat. 

I prefer these as quiet little cookies, but if you need more excitement, or can bear the guilt, go ahead and double them up with a nice filling.  For company I used Nutella in some, and Speculoos Cookie Butter in others.  They’d be awfully nice packed with ice-cream in the middle too.  No?  How about a bit of honey, then?

Nutella or Speculoos Cookie Butter in the middle...
Well behaved and modest, or outrageously calorie packed, it's up to you.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Baked Beans from Scratch

Baked Beans from Scratch

Here in Calgary, Alberta, home of the cowboy, barbecues feature grilled meat and baked beans, all to be eaten outdoors. It’s a tradition.  Baked beans from scratch take about 20 hours, including soaking time, about an hour of prep time, and hours of cooking time.  Most people open large cans of pork and beans and pour them into rustic looking containers.  But if you have the time, 'from scratch' outshine the canned variety by many country miles.

For our Barber-Cue (big back yard party for Barbershop singers and fans), I start from scratch.  I wouldn’t normally go to this trouble, but for large numbers of people, and on a yearly basis, it’s a necessary luxury.  By the time I’m eating the last bean, I’m telling myself I must make them more often, and maybe this year I will.  They are that good!

This recipe makes a huge vat of baked beans, and if you have left overs, they freeze well.  Just be sure to add lots of extra water when reheating them, so they remain saucy.

900 to 1300 grams dried navy beans (depending on how much you want)
Water to cover

3 tablespoons healthy oil such as olive or canola
2 red onions, diced
6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
4 teaspoons dried and crumbled oregano
2 teaspoons dried and crumbled thyme
1 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes (more for a spice loving crowd)
20 grates fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons jaggery powder (or brown sugar)
2 tablespoons hot mustard powder
3 tablespoons Hungarian (sweet) paprika powder
796 ml can tomatoes
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (more to taste, later)
1 cup maple syrup
3 cups pre-cooked bacon (keep your kitchen cleaner by purchasing it ready-cooked!)
1 bottle porter beer

Additional salt, cider vinegar and maple syrup to taste

I’ve given a variation of amount of beans here, but the other ingredients remain the same. In fact, if I weren’t feeding so many people, I would have gone with just 900 grams of beans.

Soak the beans overnight.  Be sure to add much more water than beans, as they swell.  Early next morning, around 8 am or so, drain and rinse the beans.  I used a slow cooker, so I added enough water to cover the beans, put the lid on, and set the machine to ‘high’.
The beans must be left alone to cook.  Don’t add any salt now as it will prevent them from cooking properly.

Slow cooker takes time, but reduces effort!  
Around noon, I started the onions and spices.  In a large pan, add oil and turn heat to medium high.  Add the onions, stirring, and lower heat to medium.  Cook till all are transparent, and most are browned.  This is an important step for good flavour.  Obey!  

Add garlic and stir.  Fry for a minute or two, then add oregano, thyme, chili flakes, black pepper and jaggery. (What those cowboys don’t know, won’t hurt em,) or brown sugar, sigh, if you must.  Stir well.  Then add the mustard and paprika powders.  Stir again.  

By now the onion mix will be nicely browned, especially with the addition of the sweet jaggery or sugar. 

Check out the beans.  They should be tender.  If there is liquid to spare, remove it now.  Push a cup into the crock and scoop out available liquid and discard. 
Gently fry the spices to release their flavours.
Add the cooked onion mix but put the onion pan back on the heat.  Drain the tomato liquid into the onion pan to deglaze it, then add that to the bean crock.  Break the tomatoes up and add to the beans, along with the vinegar, maple syrup, bacon and beer.  (I didn’t have room for it all, so I reserved some of the bacon so I could add it later, when more of the liquid had reduced.) 

Cowboys in these parts swear that beans must be accompanied by pork, as the pork fat combines with the beans to make a complete protein.  Maybe that isn’t true, but the flavours do work, despite my usual hesitation to use pork.  Bacon is very salty, so hold off on adding any of that till you’re very sure it’s needed.
Cross your fingers you have enough room!  Save some bacon for later if not.
Put the lid back on to bring the temperature up again, but once everything is simmering again, turn the lid so extra liquid can reduce.  Continue to cook for another five hours or so, stirring and tasting from time to time.  Adjust for salt, vinegar and possibly maple syrup or jaggery. 

Because I like a lot of heat, and this is a conservative Calgarian crowd, I kept a bottle of naturally fermented Seabuckthorn Hot Sauce handy.  If you can’t find it, google it to see if you can get it by mail order.  I think it’s a Calgary specialty, and yes Seabuckthorn is that thorny silver and orange shrub the city plants to discourage people from living in the shrubbery along freeways.  This local berry makes a magnificent hot sauce for a traditional Calgary barbecue feast!

Grilled steak, pork, fish, sausages, you name it, were grilled outdoors at the barbecues, and a huge table groaned with potluck savoury dishes, along with my beans and baked potatoes.  Another table held my Crème de la Crème Caramel Custard Squared, Nutella Trifle and very many gorgeous potluck sweets, from crisps to cakes to pies.  Oh my!  The singing was great and the companionship even better!  I'm already looking forward to next year!

I ate the leftovers for breakfast, with  toast and lots of Seabuckthorn Hot Sauce, I confess.